“What is government if words have no meaning?” Jared Lee Loughner asked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in 2007.
Loughner was attending a Giffords “Congress in Your Corner” get-together. The gracious congresswoman attempted to answer the youth’s riddle. As we now know, no reply would have satisfied or stilled the mind of this obsessive individual. Four years later, on January 8, 2011, Loughner went on a rampage outside a Tucson grocery store, where the representative held a similar event. He killed six people and wounded 14, among whom was Gabrielle Giffords.
Loughner was both fixated on his representative’s imagined failings, and preoccupied with language and its misuse. These elements combined and then combusted in his head.
As a writer who really loves the English language, I am intrigued by the intrusive, persistent thoughts about grammar and illiteracy to have plagued Loughner. You see, as I mourn the senseless slaughter of my countrymen, I also grieve — with almost every book I pick up or Internet tract I read — the bastardization of the language.
Given time, the nation’s mental-health mavens will confuse matters. They will likely assert, without any science, that misfiring neurotransmitters in the man’s brain brought us to this point. It would appear, however, that what pushed Loughner into an abyss was the inability to “read” the world around him. Words are symbols. They are used as agreed-upon conventions to make sense of the world. For Loughner, these constructs no longer corresponded to the things they are supposed to describe.
The online magazine Mother Jones interviewed Bryce Tierney, a close friend of Loughner. Tierney confirmed “the fascination Loughner had with semantics and how the world is really nothing— [an] illusion.” In addition, Loughner, said his pal, liked to insist (credibly) that government was “f-cking us over.”
Perhaps, then, it was not speech per se that inflamed Loughner’s febrile passions, but, rather, Orwellian speech; lies that belie reality. The Big Lies.
Take for example the words of the by-now notorious and odious Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. The Democrat made his début on the national stage by calling Arizona a “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”—the right-wing kind, naturally. Shortly after, Dupnik fleshed out his perspective: “We see one party trying to block the attempts of another party to make this a better country.”
Forget for a moment that both parties have made the country inestimably worse. How many generations of young people can you raise on these sorts of Big Lies—the kind that teach that taking from Peter to lavish on Paul at the point of a gun creates a “better country”? That central planning, the sort that crippled the USSR, will make for a “better” USA? That bankruptcy is bad if you are a private citizen, but fine for The State? That borrowing money you don’t ever intend to repay, so as to finance welfare and warfare forever-after, is for the “better”? That there is nothing wrong with an OPD (Outstanding Public Debt) that equals GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That it is not a mathematical improbability to claim that an enormous new entitlement program (healthcare) will drastically reduce the deficit and debt? Those in authority promise those without it that the larger the parasite (government) the healthier the host (the private economy). This, as their communities continue to wither.
The country’s public schools raise bumper crops of rudderless dullards. Many simply do not have the wherewithal to deal with these Big Lies. Having robbed “our kids” of their intellectual and spiritual heritage — they no longer have the resources to cope. A few will come to view words as detached from the things they are supposed to denote. Still fewer — the more vulnerable among these kids — will likely become dazed and confused, and even go “crazy,” so to speak.
Language became a metaphor for Loughner’s meandering mind. He grew angrier and angrier as the symbols his society deploys clashed with the reality these symbols were supposed to represent. You could say that Loughner was particularly susceptible to the schizophrenogenic communications transmitted, on an ongoing basis, by the many Ministries of Truth.
Liberals content that free, right-wing speech drove Loughner over the edge. I would counter thus: The perversion of speech — and the manifest discrepancy between words and what they stand for — is what encourages “madness” and mayhem in individuals like Loughner.
An inability to deal with incongruity does not imply an absence of mens rea (criminal intent). “Crazies” know right from wrong. We are all equally exposed to the Big Lies pushed by the country’s so-called cognoscenti. The political class has manufactured a parallel universe for us to inhabit. We are, however, all free to refuse to occupy it.
©2010 By ILANA MERCER